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Crystal Cathedral sex covenant stirs controversy

Choir members at the Crystal Cathedral have been asked to sign a statement that God intends sex only for married heterosexuals.

March 17, 2011|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • Crystal Cathedral Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, shown in a file photo, has apologized for the sex covenant.
Crystal Cathedral Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman, shown in a file… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

The Crystal Cathedral church in Garden Grove is involved in another controversy, this time over a covenant that choir members were asked to sign stating that God intends sex to be between married heterosexuals.

"Crystal Cathedral ministries believes that it is important to teach and model the biblical view," reads the paragraph in the Crystal Cathedral Worship Choir and Worship Team Covenant that has raised the ire of some choir members. "I understand that Crystal Cathedral Ministries teaches that sexual intimacy is intended by God to only be within the bonds of marriage, between one man and one woman."

In a statement Tuesday, Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman said the covenant is meant to clarify expectations placed on choir members as ministry leaders. But she also offered an apology.

"The church of Jesus Christ at large is grappling with the challenge of reconciling love and adherence to God's word, even those passages that challenge us," she said. "As the church has been engaging in this sensitive dialogue, people that we care for deeply have been hurt. We are sincerely sorry."

DOCUMENT: Read the covenant

On Wednesday, church founder Robert H. Schuller said he strongly disapproved of the covenant because it goes against what he has built his church upon.

"I have a reputation worldwide of being tolerant of all people and their views," he told the Orange County Register. "I'm too well-educated to criticize a certain religion or group of people for what they believe in. It's called freedom."

The covenant issue is the latest woe for the embattled church, which filed for bankruptcy protection in October. Financial documents related to the bankruptcy case have revealed that relatives and insiders at the church have received hefty payouts and tax allowances.

"In my opinion, I keep thinking that they've made as many mistakes as they can make and they've sank as low as they can sink — and behold, they sink lower," said Don Neuen, who directed the choir for 10 years but resigned in July after Programming Director Gretchen Schuller Penner said she was going to make sure each person was "spiritually and emotionally fit."

He said he believed that meant excluding those who were gay as well as heterosexuals living together out of wedlock.

"I think it's absolutely horrible. It's the antithesis of what Christianity should be," Neuen said. "We should be reaching out and embracing and showing love to all people who are peaceful."

Mindy Kim, a former choir member, said the covenant is an example of how new leadership is eroding the church.

Kim, who sang in the choir for 10 years, said she wouldn't have signed the document.

"The thought of signing it wouldn't even enter into my head," she said. "I would leave."

Church spokesman John Charles said the covenant was not meant to exclude anyone. "We're asking people to follow the teachings of Christianity, and this is what we believe," he said. "We take the biblical view."

"I think [choir members] are taking it as anti-gay when that is not the full intent," he said. "It's anyone who has a promiscuous lifestyle."

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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